Wednesday, January 14, 2015

June 1975 Part One: Look Out Axis! Here Come The Invaders!

Astonishing Tales 30
Deathlok the Demolisher in
"The Soft Parade... of Slow, Sliding Death!"
Story by Rich Buckler and Doug Moench
Art by Rich Buckler, Keith Pollard, Arvell Jones, and Al McWilliams
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Carlotte Jetter
Cover by Rich Buckler

Deathlok saves the soldier from the tank explosion, but he's severely wounded, then shot as they try to flee the assassins, so our cyborg hero is forced to drop him and is able to escape the rampaging tank. All the while, Ryker watches from his HQ, gloating and providing play-by-play. The Demolisher makes his way to an abandoned armory, where he quickly dispatches two goons and escapes on foot much to an angry Ryker's chagrin. Armed with a pair of six-shooters, Deathlok concocts a makeshift crossbow and waits for the bad guys. Cut to Mike Travers, who escapes Ryker's prison with some fancy computer hacking, but Ryker is too busy plotting to use Nina's mind to destroy Deathlok and having his scientists transform him into the Savior-Machine (whatever that is). A trio of assassins track Deathlok to an old cryogenics building called The Flesh Factory, and the cyborg takes them all out in a heartbeat. But the tank approaches, and Deathlok uses the crossbow to stop it—but there's no one inside! We end on Mike searching for Deathlok/Luther Manning, with an easy trail to follow. -Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Moench more than makes up for missing out on contributing to issue #28 by cramming as many words as possible into every tiny panel. And there are zillions of tiny panels throughout from Deathlok Daddy Buckler and pinch hitters Pollard & Jones. And the pinch hitters drag the book down a little—note the strange Hulk-size fists on Ryker on page 16. Did he get those at Target? Overall, an OK chapter, with some nasty old-school killings by the Demolisher, tons of Ryker ranting and lots & lots of computer conversations. Next…

Matthew Bradley:  Despite a reprint-enabled four months between issues, Buckler seems to have needed more help on this one as Moench returns to script all but the first three pages of his plot, the increasingly ubiquitous Pollard/Jones team divides the art chores with Rich over his layouts, and McWilliams (whose work graced Marvel Spotlight #20 in February) applies the ink.  Al can’t completely paper over the cracks, so Deathlok sometimes looks unlike himself, while Mike Travers, in particular, resembles a refugee from an entirely different book.  Storywise, this is pretty much of a piece with what’s gone before, but although Rich raises ample questions as to just what the hell is going on and where we’re headed, he doesn’t advance the plotline that much.

Chris Blake: The only problem with setting a high bar is in maintaining it there.  This issue isn’t a bad comic overall, but it is the weakest chapter in the Rime of Deathlok.  For starters, the story itself doesn’t amount to much – it’s simply a sustained pursuit (“running around,” as Prof Gilbert might deem it) by an overmatched opponent.  The “trouble-shooters” clearly have no chance against Deathlok, plus the tank never follows through on its supposed threat – our story opens with Deathlok dead in the tank’s sites, but it doesn’t fire, because it’s waiting for the five armed men – why?  And why are we supposed to believe that the tank is particularly suited to take down Deathlok – what is it about the tank that makes it uniquely dangerous to him?  Lastly (and then I’ll leave the tank smoldering in ruins), as much as I enjoy Deathlok’s ingenuity as he fashions the crossbow to smash the tank – what has he (or possibly, ‘puter) detected in the tank’s design that leaves it vulnerable to this sort of assault?  That moment alone stands as a glaring Missed Opportunity, as Rich & Doug could’ve figured a way for Deathlok and ‘puter to work together to fashion the counter-attack.  

The bit with Mike Travers also makes no sense.  Was it always this easy to devise an escape?  Or, did Mike notice something new that he was able to take advantage of?  Why does no one respond to the alarms, and why wouldn’t someone insist on informing Ryker of this development?  If Ryker has a purpose in letting Travers go, that should be hinted at in the script.  Instead, it seems only that Rich & Doug decided they could do more with the character on the outside, so off he goes.  Travers then employs the skills of a Navajo tracker to instantaneously locate Deathlok’s path – it’s too funny. 
The art also is at its weakest.  After missing a deadline, with an extra two months to work on it, and with this being Rich’s pet project, you’d expect boffo art.  Instead, it’s mostly pedestrian – good action and dramatic close-ups, sure, but again, well short of the bar as it had been set.  The most glaring shortcoming is in most of the depictions of Deathlok’s face, as the combined sense of menace and determination that has defined Deathlok’s expression is sorely missing.

Mark Barsotti: Another Doors' reference title and a tag-team effort (three artists, two writers) that manages, just barely, to avoid wheel-spinning status. Buckler/Moench continue working dark, as Deathlok almost manages to save his new ally before he's shot in the back. The 'Lok scenes are mostly Buckler (although I'd bet folding money the tank barrel on p.#3 is lifted from Russ Heath), the Ryker/Mike Travers scenes more Pollard and/or Jones. The results are good, have been better. 

Deathlok runs from Ryker's robo-tank (not that far from a D.C. war comic, eh?), strapping on six shooters and leaving a high body-count in his wake. Travers escapes Ryker's bunker, using an amusingly anachronistic computer punch card. The Mad Colonel pimps his plan to become the "savior-machine," but his intended torture of captive Nina (her brainwaves power the tank) has no emotional impact, 'cause we don't even see her wake up. 

The improv-crossbow tank take down is very Sgt. Rockish (I sense a sub-textual theme here). Kinda cool, kinda so what? Nothing's added to the title's already established nihilistic, no future vibe and high death toll. Ryker getting ready to go full cyborg savior intrigues, and Luther's old friend Mike is on the loose, but we learn nothing new of the ex-Mr. Manning. And there's no venom in the mental Pong match between 'Lok and "'puter;" they seem to be settling in, like an old married couple.

Knowing the title only has a few issues left, I hope we're in for a Big Jolt next time out.    

The Amazing Spider-Man 145
"Gwen Stacy is Alive... And, Well..."
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru, Frank Giacoia, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Peter refuses to believe the "Gwen" who was in his apartment is the real thing. Trying to work it out, he just gets angry and storms out to go see Aunt May in the hospital, where she ends up comforting him (as always). Meantime, Mac Gargan is released from a New Jersey federal pen and immediately goes back to being The Scorpion, robbing a bank the very next morning. Peter has a nightmare while sleeping in the hospital, waking to a news bulletin that finds him suiting up as Spider-Man to search for Scorpion. After an exhausting aside (see Marvel Team-Up #33), the Scorpion finds Spidey and attacks! The two enemies battle it out and end up at a cement processing plant, with Scorpion getting increasingly annoyed at Spidey's insult shtick until our hero falls into a mixing vat! But a handy bracing strut saves the day and, changing back to Peter, he goes to the hospital and is met by Ned, Betty, MJ, Joe Robertson and "Gwen", where Ned stunningly reveals this "Gwen"'s fingerprints match those taken at the real Gwen's autopsy—could there be two Gwen Stacys?!?! -Joe Tura  


Joe: A great (if not the usual misleading) cover kicks off an issue that I honestly don't remember at all. Probably one of the few holes in my long-sold Spidey collection, so I'm getting a look at this with fresh eyes. So to speak. And of course, it's excellent, yet flawed. Sure, it's great to see the mystery of "Gwen" to give us something to talk about in the elementary schoolyard, and some cool action with the Scorpion, but the whole "Hey, I was fighting the Meteor Man for a while but I'm back" event seemed a bit odd, and probably confusing if you didn't pick up MTU. And why would the cops give back the Scorpion costume in a suitcase? Did they not check said suitcase when Gargan was incarcerated? Did they not hear him endlessly bragging about how awesome he was as the Scorpion to anyone who would listen? And the prison system obviously doesn't work since he's out for 25 seconds and robs a bank. Where the heck is his parole officer? Still, Conway and Andru are in fine form according to this Spidey-phile. Some nice "Peter goes batty" stuff to start, backed by nicely drawn close-ups by Ross (especially bottom of page 2, reprinted above) and cool fight scenes, except for maybe the panels of Aunt Mummy, I mean May (see page 11 and you'll agree).

Fave sound effect this month is one that's not exactly new, in fact it's been used a dozen times, but the well-placed "KROM!" on page 18 rings true because not only is that the exact sound The Scorpion's tail would make against a brick building, but that's the reaction Spidey would scream out if he were a long-haired Barbarian.  P.S. A Galactus Marvel Value Stamp! Sweet!

Mark: Much like last ish, Kid Conway mixes sub-par super-histrionics with the far more intriguing "What's Gwen doing above ground?" mystery. Maybe Conway was already eyeing the exit, having been passed over for the editor's chair, but the Scorpion's return is particularly stale: Gargan gets out of stir (complete with the return of his super villain gear, begging the question: do stick-up men get their handguns back?) launches crime spree, wants revenge on Webs. Yada-yada, a temporarily bested Spidey holds his breath under water for eight minutes, vows to do better next time.

The book opens with Pete thinking he's cracking up (again), then he man-handles the presumptive Gwen imposter. We close at the hospital (Aunt May's 100th visit), where Ned Leeds shuts down Pete's imposter riff with the double-barreled news that, (1) while Ms. Stacy remains undisturbed in her grave, (2), this Gwen has the same fingerprints!

Matthew: I consider it an embarrassment that a villain as cool as the Scorpion has been so long absent from Marvel Comics in general and his home turf of ASM in particular, but that spectacular full-pager compensates considerably, marred only by one of the annoyingly “cute” captions with which Conway has glutted this issue.  He has, however, synchronized the arrival of the second Gwen shrewdly with the point at which something finally clicks between Peter and MJ, and those cliffhanger revelations at least allow us to rule out certain possibilities, e.g., that the first one never really died.  Yet while Peter’s conclusion that some villain is trying to get at Spidey through her turns out to be accurate, it feels to me a like a bit of an intuitive leap.

Scott McIntyre: I would have put Gwen on the cover rather than the standard “Spidey vs Scorpy” picture. Why put a “no big deal” cover when something as monumental as the return of Gwen should be in the forefront? While I’m not a fan of Peter apparently cracking and rocking back and forth on the steps of his apartment, I at least appreciate that he didn’t think Gwen was the real thing from the outset. The Scorpion actually feels like an intrusion here. The Gwen storyline is far more interesting, but I see the need to have the usual dust ups. The final page where it’s revealed that this is really Gwen, even though they dug up her grave and found the body intact, is chilling. Of course we all know where it’s going, thanks to all these years of hindsight, but at the time it must have been a pretty gripping and weird turn of events. Just as Peter was moving forward, whack! comes the brutal hand of fate right across the chops.

The Avengers 136
"Iron Man: D.O.A."
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Tom Sutton and Mike Ploog
Colors Uncredited
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane, Joe Sinnott, and John Romita

(Reprinted from Amazing Adventures #12, May 1972)

Hank McCoy has recently made his transformation into a literal beast and goes about constructing a disguise out of latex to look normal. He finally succeeds and returns to work at the Brand Corporation. Tony Stark and Marianne Rodgers visit and are interrupted by Hank’s assistant Linda Donaldson. After Linda leaves, Marianne, with her esper powers, tries to warn Hank of Linda’s villainous nature, but Hank won’t hear any talk of his assistant/girlfriend and takes off. That night, Hank roams the darkness of the Brand Corporation as the Beast when Iron Man returns to investigate Linda. Hank freaks out and he and Iron Man fight a savage battle to the death. Thinking he has killed the Golden Avenger, the Beast takes off into the night. Unknown to anyone, he was under the spell of the Mastermind and only thought he killed Iron Man. Seeing Hank in anguish, Iron Man decides not to hunt the mutant down.
-Scott McIntyre

Another mid-70s Marvel Zombie gets burned by
the Deadline Doom. "I had to mow three lawns for that quarter,"
cries fed-up toddler!

Scott: We’re told the “Dreaded Deadline Doom” made it necessary for this reprint to be plugged into an Avengers slot. It’s a weird choice, since it’s not even close to an Avengers adventure. However, other than that, it’s actually pretty good, if out of left field. At least we get to see Hank actually creating his disguise and the anguished steps it took to make so perfect a replica of his former features. Also touched upon is the fact that he can’t sweat through latex and that he shouldn’t be so close to anyone as he allowed himself to Linda. The denouement was a little confusing, since it’s unclear what is actually illusion and what is reality. Also, the hasty fill-in explanation at the very end is kind of proof that this was the wrong story to print. Why not just grab a single issue Avengers story to reprint? The Tom Sutton art is fanciful, but I spotted Mike Ploog’s inks a mile away. His influence was powerful. A fun story, it just seemed a little weird seeing Linda Donaldson and Marianne Rodgers again.

Matthew: I can see the logic behind the selection. First of all, it features an Avenger (and is written by their current scribe, no less), but more important, Stainless surely knew he'd be introducing the Beast next issue, and this gives the uninitiated a little recap on what Hank's been up to since leaving the X-Men.

Chris: This issue has become a mainstay of $1 bins at comic shops everywhere.  I hope that comic buyers of June 1975 looked at the cover content (recolored from Amazing Adventures #12, with a few Avenger heads placed in, but otherwise virtually identical to the original) and scoffed, just as I usually do each time I glance at it.  I won’t say much since AA #12 already has been commented-on by this esteemed faculty, but I will say that, as much as I enjoy the artwork of Sutton and Ploog, their combined effort does little for me here; I think the results would have been far better if, instead, Sutton had inked Ploog’s pencils.  Either way, it’s a shameless reprint fill-in. 

Peter Enfantino: So, let's reprint a random Beast solo adventure and call it a "Shattering Special"? Really?

Conan the Barbarian 51 
“Man Born of Demon”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Dick Giordano
Colors by Glynis Oliver
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Conan arrives in the throne room of Alkarion with a present for Unos, the new ruler of Phalkar: a speaking, three-eyed bird that can tell the past, present and future. The aware avian informs the monarch that Stefyana, daughter of the murdered King Thormond and Queen Chrysala, is still alive and that he himself is actually the pawn of the royal sorcerers Thalkalides and Elvirim. The wizards are enraged, but Unos lets Conan and the odd bird leave in peace. The Cimmerian returns to Lupalina’s hut and the bird transforms back into the Wolf Mistress. Conan and Stefyana ride off to find the still-alive body of the sorcerer Zoqquanor: if he is killed, Stefyana will also die. Suddenly Unos appears before Lupalina and demands to know more of the bird’s prophecies. For answers, she summons Belthamquar and Thelonis, the male and female demons that Thalkalides and Elvirim used to create Unos. The royal wizards suddenly burst in and are quickly destroyed by the demons — Unos then kills Lupalina. When the Cimmerian and Stefyana find Zoqquanor, his body protected by a magic shield, Unos also arrives. Conan attacks, but the demon spawn blasts the barbarian with hellfire from his eyes: the barbarian’s flesh is seared from his bones but the amber Amulet of Merdoramon protects him and he reforms. Unos then blasts the body of Zoqquanor and Stefyana appears to die. Conan leaps and applies a bear hug to the evil king: the amulet hanging around the Cimmerian’s neck burns into Unos’ chest and he perishes in agony. The warrior then drapes the amber amulet around Stefyana’s neck and she revives. Conan rides off leaving Stefyana to rightfully rule Phalkar. 

 -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: After six issues, Roy’s adaptation of Gardner Fox’s 1970 novel Kothar and the Conjurer’s Curse finally comes to a close. Not that this warrants a Landmark graphic, but I’m pretty sure that this is the first issue of Conan the Barbarian I ever owned. I clearly remember the three-eyed bird and the panels of Conan turning into a skeleton and then reforming. This would probably explain why I never regularly bought the series back in the day: coming into the last of a six-part story is not the greatest introduction to a character. I’m sure I was more confused than anything. Which wasn’t, and still isn’t, difficult. Zoqquanor was barely mentioned in the past few chapters so nice to see him — well, his body at least — play a part in the grand finale. While I enjoyed the ride, it’s a bit of a relief that this extended run is over. I’m looking forward to catching my breath with few single issue adventures — which look forthcoming. Excellent Kane cover but for some reason John Romita actually illustrated the faces of both Conan and Stefyana.

Captain America and the Falcon 186
"Mind Cage!"
Story by Steve Englehart and John Warner
Art by Frank Robbins, Mike Esposito, and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane, Joe Sinnott, and John Romita

The Falcon is a creation of the Red Skull. Now revived and held fast, Cap can only listen in agony as the Skull recounts his scheme, put into motion six years earlier. Sam Wilson is, in reality, Samuel T. “Snap” Wilson, petty crook who made his way to Los Angeles and the local mob. Working his way up, he was sent to Rio by air with a “fortune in the hold” when he planned to knock out the pilot and take the money himself. The pilot wasn’t so easy to subdue and the fight resulted in a crash that killed the pilot and stranded Wilson. It was, by happenstance, the same island the Skull used the Cosmic Cube to send Cap to in issue 117 after they switched bodies. When the Exiles there failed to kill Cap, the Skull devised a plan to change Snap Wilson’s personality and make him the perfect partner for the hero. All of these years, Cap has been allowed to live at the Red Skull’s whim, never once mentioning any of this in other confrontations. Now, finally, the Skull intends to have his vengeance by forcing Cap and the entranced Falcon to fight to the death. Meanwhile, Gabe Jones and Peggy Carter escape their bonds and radio SHIELD for help. Unknown to them, however, a mysterious agency intercepts their message and sends in an assault team of their own to foil the Skull’s plans. At Sharon Carter’s Family home, Dave Cox realizes he is falling for Sharon and takes his leave, breaking both of their hearts. Back at the Red Skull’s stronghold, the Skull kills as many people as he can on his way out and makes good his escape, leaving a confused Cap, Gabe and Peggy with an unconscious, entranced Snap Wilson. Who were these mystery people coming to their aid? Why didn’t they want SHIELD to get the message? And what can be done with the Falcon?
-Scott McIntyre

Scott: Oh, Snap! No summary could do this story justice and it’s a wonderful crescendo to Steve Englehart’s tenure on the book. One of the earliest comics I ever owned, this was a hell of a way to start. Not even the laughable Frank Robbins pencils can damage this story. It’s a powerful revelation and Englehart masterfully ties up lingering questions and loose ends from years ago, even going so far as to use the scheme to point out and patch up Stan’s gaps in story logic. Gabe and Peggy get some really nice moments together. They’ve become fairly interesting characters, especially Peggy who isn’t some spinster pining over her lost love anymore. Sharon gets a sweet, if short, subplot but this is the last time in a great while she won’t just be flat out annoying or shrill. When the issue ends, you truly feel like nothing will be the same and that there are so many more amazing things to come. Alas, it was not to be. Englehart took what was supposed to be a temporary break from the title which wound up being permanent. So the Snap Wilson story was never adequately followed up on. Oh it wasn’t ignored, but it never really went anywhere. This was as great as the stories would get for the time being. Soon, it would be announced that Jack Kirby would be returning to Marvel and would be handling the writing and penciling for the book (for better or worse). Until then, we will be marking time.  Thanks for all of your good work, Stainless. Sure, it wasn’t all amazing, but it was still some of the best writing Captain America has ever had.

Mark: More adrenaline-paced, Stretch Armstrong gonzo goodness as we race through the purported long con Cosmic Cube powered creation of the Falcon (way back in #117), Gabe and Peggy getting frisky during a jailbreak, and more Red Death and rubber-limbed chaos, all fueled by Frank Robbins' Red Skull, half demented jack-o-lantern, half crayon melted by a Ritalin-fueled fourth grader with a magnifying glass.  

Matthew: Englehart notes on his site that “I plotted this issue for new writer John Warnerbut he asked me to [script pp. 3-17since it involved a lot of history.  Unfortunately, John didn’t stick with the series long thereafter, and it went back into a long period of decline,” never mind the fact that Stainless might be regarded as having propelled it down a slippery slope himself by introducing “Snap” Wilson.  DC veteran Warner staked out a tiny patch of four-color turf while working as a writer-editor on Marvel’s B&W magazine line, best remembered (if at all) for premiering the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Ulysses Bloodstone strip in Marvel Presents #1 (October 1975) and penning all but the eighth and final issue of the upcoming Son of Satan book.

Matthew: Oh, Snap.  Marvel offers a stock “give him a chance and you’ll get to like him; it’s always tough when we change artists” reply to the brutal attacks on Robbins in the lettercol, but between that visual train-wreck, which Esposito seems unable to mitigate, and the horror Stainless unleashed on his way out the door, this must be regarded as a low point.  If he wanted to set off a quake of let’s-kill-Gwen magnitude, he presumably succeeded, and of course Steve isn’t the only writer to subject a character to a drastic retcon, yet what really bothers me about this is that he not only takes a fairly major one (who, after all, has shared equal billing with Cap ever since #134) and undermines his entire heroic nature, but also does it to one of Marvel’s pioneering black heroes...

Daredevil 122
Story by Bob Brown and Tony Isabella
Art by Bob Brown and Vince Colletta
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saldino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane

Local media report that there has been no sign of kidnapped DA Franklin Nelson. SHIELD, with the help of Daredevil and the Black Widow, have hit numerous Hydra hives, with no sure leads as to Foggy's present location; there is hope that he might still be somewhere in the city. The Widow coerces info from a captured Hydra agent that suggests Foggy could be held in a warehouse in Flushing, but DD is concerned that Hydra heavyweight Blackwing might be his captor. DD (overprotectively) doesn't want BW to go alone, and Nick Fury asserts his authority to declare that neither should investigate the site; DD and BW decide to go on their own, as partners.  Blackwing speaks via telescreen with the Supreme Hydra, who acknowledges that he hoped to lure Fury and numerous SHIELD operatives to the warehouse, which has been “rigged with explosives.” BW plunges thru a skylight and surprises El Jaguar; she seeks to settle a score with him. DD finds Blackwing in another part of the warehouse and battles both his foe, and a genetically engineered giant bat!  DD breaks part of his billy club in half to create a sharp point, which he plunges (as guided by his radar sense) into the heart of the bat.  BW zaps Jaguar with her sting, and then runs into the warehouse to find DD. DD lunges toward Blackwing and misses; without the aid of the billy club, he lands hard on the warehouse floor.  The Supreme Hydra reports to Blackwing that Fury is on his way, and then removes his headpiece, to reveal himself to be – Silvermane!  -Chris Blake

Chris: Words, words, words – Tony is certainly capable of giving Doug Moench a run for his money when it comes to bogging-down a story in needless text.  From the lengthy expository opening (covering three pages -!), Tony never gives this story room to breathe.  At least the rooftop exchange between DD and the Widow is productive and somewhat heartfelt, but then we have a little fumbling around, followed by a needless visit to Candace and Deb – uh guys, I thought you were in a big hurry to get to the warehouse in Queens?  Your readers are feeling impatient, too – we’ve already reached page 15, and there’s precious little of anything that’s happened yet.  Once the action finally does get started, I like the idea of having two separate simultaneous battles, but then we get all this stupid chatter to distract us and also to slow things down again (it’s not entirely Tony’s fault – it’ll be years until Roger McKenzie finally purges DD of the Spidey-lite bantering that will continue to plague this title).  I have a feeling that, once I get thru the next issue, I’m going to find that this story would’ve worked perfectly well as a two-parter.  

I realize why I'm so opposed to the depiction of Daredevil engaging in banter. It's not just because this is part of Spidey's schtick – it has more to do with the fact that DD has to rely on his senses in order to keep track of his changing surroundings. If DD is busy chatting, wouldn't this distract him from processing the information he requires to ensure that he preserves his cranium intact?
I now have a new complaint regarding Colletta.  I find the art is much better than last issue, which to me had been marred by sketchy and scratchy inking – over admittedly unspectacular layouts by Brown.  So if this issue looks clearer and cleaner (Brown’s pencils are a bit better, too), do I now have to get annoyed with Colletta for being inconsistent?  Well, if I must, then I must.  
Matthew: Probably alone among the faculty in lamenting Isabella’s imminent departure, I consider this penultimate entry confirmation that my high regard for last issue was not due solely to its cluster status, and even Colletta’s inks seem more textured than his usual slapdash efforts, giving Brown’s work some well-deserved heft.  I’m impressed with how Tony’s opening blends its recap with new verbal and visual information, and with his command of the characters and their relationships. And I’m impressed with his handling of Hydra, permitting the Mattasha tag-team match with Blackwing (born a disposable heavy in Conway’s fill-in) and El Jaguar; clues to the new Supreme Hydra’s i.d. were certainly there in his superannuated puss and arachnophobia.

Isabella, as you may recall, first used Hydra in Giant-Size Creatures #1-and-only, making them indirectly responsible for the erstwhile Cat’s transformation into Tigra the Were-Woman.  Hydra has long been one of my favorite villain groups…I was leery when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby launched the ‘Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ series in Strange Tales, but I was won over by those green-suited goobers….I hoped that turning Greer Nelson into Tigra would give her a second chance at stardom.  She hasn’t made it to that level, but, at least, she has continued to be a fairly popular supporting character in the Marvel Universe. The change obviously did her good,” as “The Tigerish One” told Jon Knutson in his Jon’s Random Acts of Geekery! interview.

Scott: The news report is a nice device to fill us all in on the plot so far and the “bat” card evokes some awesome feelings of dread, but Blackwing is no Batman. He strikes no terror in my heart, no feelings other than the dread of sitting through another lame villain in a lower tier book I wish would find its way already. Matt and Natasha’s relationship is maddeningly inconsistent. I almost long for the whining of Karen Page, I just don’t see what Matt finds appealing in the Widow’s volatile waffling, outside of her finely honed ass. One gets the impression that Bob Brown’s work would be better with the right inker. Vince Colletta isn’t that guy. Is it me, or does Silvermane look like Jon Pertwee? He certainly isn’t recognizable as the man we’ve seen before. And why do they keep bringing him back? Is he considered that gripping a character? I remember him mostly from the “tablet” storyline in Spider-Man, which was his most memorable arc.

The Defenders 24
"--In the Jaws of the Serpent!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Bob McLeod
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane, Klaus Janson, and John Romita

Dr. Strange, the Valkyrie, Nighthawk and Yellowjacket have been captured by the Sons of the Serpent, the white supremacist group that plans to destroy all the other coloured races on Earth. Val breaks her bonds and almost overcomes her captors, but the shock of seeing that one of her foes is a woman leaves her vulnerable to a gun blast-- and the planned punishment of being burned at the stake as an example! Bruce Banner, meanwhile, tells Clea and Wong of the Defenders' fate, and Clea summons past helpers Daredevil, the Son of Satan and Luke Cage to come to their assistance. They do; and while Yellowjacket manages to escape his bonds, he finds that he, Nighthawk and the still unconscious Dr. Strange are being held in a base somewhere under the Atlantic Ocean with no obvious method of escape. As the others find their way to Strange's flat, they see Val on TV, about to be burned on an inverted cross. They rush to the scene; Daimon and Cage disappearing into some kind of vortex. DD and the Hulk attack, but the former is overcome by numbers, the latter by a flash that blinds him. What's next? -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Steve Gerber does a commendable job (as usual) at penning a well-paced and exciting issue, despite the rather bland motives of the Sons of the Serpent. Still, they have managed to do what others haven't: fight the likes of Stephen and the Hulk to a standstill. I remember as a kid thinking that Sal Buscema was a gal (as in Sally); but finding out that wasn't the case didn't diminish my appreciation of his art. There is a sense of immediacy and artistic licence about it that I always enjoy. The guest cast adds to the mix. Daimon Hellstrom seems far ahead of the Serpent clan in power; but then again, so did the others. 

Scott: It’s interesting how the timing of these reviews works out. Or maybe it’s just sad how little changed in 40 plus years. The racially charged storyline is just as timely today as it was then, only we don’t need people in serpent costumes raising tensions. Which is the real tragedy. Back in the fantasy world, it’s nice to see Bruce Banner in these pages. Too often the Hulk would be sitting around, smiling, jovial, and Banner would be nowhere to be found. The fact that he takes on a proactive, leadership role is refreshing. It’s ironic that he is a stronger character in this one issue of The Defenders than he is in his own book. Also nice is how Daredevil and Luke Cage meet without the customary MARMIS. Instead, DD just walks up, introduces himself and they have a nice, pleasant meeting. I loved it! Just like real fricking people. The art is nice, the pacing quick and the ending gripping, The Hulk’s blindness comes as a shock the way it’s illustrated. The Hulk being blinded, Val burned at the stake, the others unconscious; a hell of a cliffhanger. A fine issue all around.

Matthew: Curiously, the cover identifies Yellowjacket as a Defender, differentiating him from the “startling guest stars,” all three of whom harken back to the Wein Interregnum.  I don’t have strong memories of McLeod’s work, but if this is any indication, I will welcome his byline as an inker in the future, and despite a Jansonish blotch on Doc in page 3, panel 1, Sal is lucky to have him; the same creative team is reunited with Daimon in this month’s Marvel Spotlight.  As in the recent Giant-Size X-Men #1 (speaking of Len), the scope of this oversized storyline gives Gerber the luxury of taking his time with the rallying-the-troops routine, and of course his being the current and former writer on Son of Satan and DD, respectively, helps with their interactions.

Chris: Solid issue all around, as we see how the non-team can employ other skills and powers as the need requires.  I appreciate the way Clea was unable to zap all the allies together at once, when clearly she does not yet have this capability; instead, she’s able to get the word out to only two, as Banner employs Plan B (ie the phone book).  My only reservation has to do with the length of time required to assemble everyone – I would have pared that down by a page or two.  My only guess for stretching this out might be because Steve knew that he wanted to leave Val, DD, and the Hulk incapacitated and imperiled at the end, and he needed time in order for the story to conclude at that point.  I like the way that Daimon and Cage, seemingly winging their way in to the rescue, disappear so quickly that there isn’t even time for a cursory explanation.  

The art by Sal + Bob is quite good, even though the inks overshadow Sal’s pencils at times.  Bob McLeod, to me, is one of those talents who should’ve been more of an asset for Marvel – I would’ve liked to see him as a regular inker for a title, since his high clarity + medium texture style would’ve been well suited to Cockrum’s pencils on X-Men (and we will see these two on the historic X-Men #94), and Byrne’s on the Avengers.  As it is, we never seem to see Bob for more than the odd issue or two, like this one.  He must’ve had a better-paying regular gig elsewhere.  
Lastly, whether you’re a fan of Gil Kane or not, I hope you’ll agree that this is hands-down one of the most exciting covers in the history of this title.  

Matthew: Sorry, I'm afraid I don't. To me, it's too dark and densely packed to differentiate anything, and thus dissolves into a blur. As I said regarding last issue, I found the covers for this entire arc disappointing.

Doctor Strange 8
"Rights of Passage!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Tom Palmer
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

Dr. Strange and Clea stand helpless before her father, Orini and a host of demons. She, without the knowledge to fight; Stephen without the understanding to use his power due to an enchantment from Umar, sister of Dormammu, who awaits the full return of his power to invade our world. Clea uses her knowledge to enable Strange's power, and they levitate an escape. She finds an object from her childhood, and recalls her youthful day when her father was Dormammu's right hand. Betrayal abounds; Clea knows that her father would turn her over to his master in a second, while Umar awaits her chance to overpower her evil brother. Clea sneaks into her childhood home and finds materials necessary to conjure a Pagan spell that transfers Stephen's power to her. While the control Stephen must have to avoid temptation astonishes her, she maintains her composure and holds off her father. She can then return Stephen's power to him, and they return to Earth; Dormammu's arrival is imminent.
-Jim Barwise

Jim: Perhaps the most consistent title in Marvel at this time maintains its momentum. The Gene Colan/Tom Palmer team keeps those unconventional panels coming, entirely suitable to the mythical material. Clea goes through something of a catharsis, coming to terms with how little she meant to her father and, likewise, gets the chance to learn some of Stephen's humility. Umar awaits her chance to betray her brother, and the distress of Mother Earth is portrayed with effective pain. Steve Englehart never gives Dr. Strange an easy way out; the reader is left feeling like both of them really earn their success.

Matthew:  Early lettercol response to the switch in artists in #6 is still largely lamenting the loss of Brunner, but in sum, I am delighted—there are certain strips for which Colan is uniquely suited, and this is one of them.  As for the now-undiluted Englehart plotting, Stan told us almost nothing of Clea’s history in the Dark Dimension, which gives Stainless plenty of space to fill in without resorting to “Snap” Wilson retcons (sorry, sore subject).  Like many great villains, Dormammu must be used carefully, and this gradual buildup to his eventual unleashing is very effective, even spilling over into the current Giant-Size Avengers #4, which is eminently logical given his thirst for vengeance on the Scarlet Witch for his defeat in the Avengers/Defenders War.

Mark: "Rights of Passage" is the right stuff, as Gene Colan (w/ Tom Palmer in inky harness) finds his full mystic groove (his joyfully demonic Dormammu bests even Ditko's; no mean feat) and Steve Englehart puts the pedal down on the plot. The memory-blocked Doc and Clea escape her dad & assorted demons long enough for the platinum-tressed apprentice to retrieve a childhood doll and have a final kiss-off confab with her old man.

The Big D, meanwhile, continues torturing the imprisoned Mother Nature (does he roast her in butter or Imperial?) and, in a small, spiteful move, dispatches his sis Umar to give his junkie New York flunky a fatal hotshot. Donning hippie headbands, Strange and Clea use the Mindless Ones to short circuit the G'uranthic Guardian, restoring the Doc's powers. And just in the nick of time for, as Clea casts away her childhood toy and thus all remaining ties to her father, a fully recharged and ravenous Dormammu splits the desert floor and emerges from a fissure in the earth!

Matthew: Well, at least they spelled "Rites" correctly on the cover. Sigh...

Chris: Steve E shows a great deal of consideration towards us, the loyal readers of Dr Strange, by not trying to hand in some ready-made solution for Doc’s present predicament.  I appreciate Doc’s level-headed demeanor during this power-less period – Clea comments on it as well, as Doc understands (since he had not been stripped of his all-important capacity for reason, only his knowledge of his mystic abilities –right?) that, given time, he expects to be able to work something out.  That’s pretty good for a guy who’s trapped without powers in the Dark Dimension with his trainee girlfriend, without so much as a cooler, or anything.  

When I opened the cover and saw that Palmer was finishing Colan’s pencils, I said “Hhmmmm . . . !“  In my comment for G-S Avengers #4 (which takes place during a commercial break between this issue and Doc #7), I belittled Don Heck for his proven inability to deliver a Big Moment. Well, contrast that with any page in this comic – even the somewhat ordinary moments look great.  I do want to lend particular attention to a few images: framing-worth splash-page; Clea’s wistful moment as she recalls the drastically different circumstances of her childhood (p 6, pnl 1); Doc in thoughtful consideration (p 14, pnl 4 – and now, contrast that with any panel featuring a bitterly scheming Count from Tomb of Dracula); Doc/Clea mind-meld (p 30, pnl 2); Dormammu revels in his triumph (p 30, pnl 4), and finally, one of the great images from this issue – Dormammu incarnate, climbing to the earth’s surface thru a rift in the desert floor.  
I might have to go back and re-read this storyline before I read the next issue’s last chapter, if only to be sure that I didn’t miss anything!  

Fantastic Four 159
"Havoc in the Hidden Land!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Joe Rosen 
Cover by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

The male members of the FF (plus Medusa & Quicksilver) blast off from the Baxter Building in their "sky-thrusting missile," heading not just to "Havoc in the Hidden Land," but back to the future as Roy Thomas sets the re-set button by tale's end.

Ben gives Reed grief about ordering Sue to stay behind, then they land in the seemingly deserted Great Refuge, Quicksilver reminding us that chum bucket baddie, Xemu, has captured Crystal and clan, one of whom (the Grey Gargoyle’s bald brother?) attacks, followed by blaster-packing Xemu. Our captured heroes are soon delivered to a cell, where Johnny is reunited with blue-skinned hottie Valeria, whom he crushed on all the way back in Strange Tales #103. Val's dad, Phineas, invented the Thunder Horn, which 'Mu is trying to compel Black Bolt to use as the ultimate WMD.

Medusa is brought before Xemu and captive BB (although why he's gagged, since he doesn't want to speak is anyone's guess) for a T Horn demo, aimed at the Red Chinese. 'Mu figures Mao's forces will either wipe out the Inhumans in retaliation (while Xemu skedaddles back to the Fifth Dimension) or, if BB takes out the Chi-coms, they'll blame America or the Rooskies, thus sparking WWIII! 

Escape comes, courtesy Ben's wall-bashing and Triton emerging from the broken plumbing, but the Reds' jets are already on the way, nukes bristling. They fly on, seeing nothing thanks to stowaway Sue expanding her powers by making the entire GR invisible. Some clobberin' time Thing clean-up and Xemu is bagged.

Johnny slips Valeria some tongue, giving the Torch his first potential post-Crystal relationship. With Sue back, more powerful than ever, Medusa quits. Johnny dons the traditional blue after finding an old uni on their rocket.

Thus all the changes of the past couple years are swept away, courtesy of reset-button Roy.  
-Mark Barsotti

Mark: A solid wrap-up, with archivist Roy digging deep into the early Silver Age to pluck Xemu from well-deserved obscurity. More excellent art from Buckler/Sinnott, and observations from my fellow profs that Buckler apes Buscema on the FF rings true, with the exception of Mr. Grimm: the B/S Thing is pure Kirby.

Mixed emotions about Roy returning the FF to the status quo. We all knew Medusa wasn't a permanent member and the color of Johnny's uni is a minor matter, but it brings to mind Stan's dictum, circa '68 or so, and the Marvel U's core characters were pretty well set, and that hence forth the writers' marching orders were to present mostly only the illusion of change. Johnny seeing Valeria again could have led in interesting directions, but, as I recall, it was never followed up on. Having no memory of the stories of this era, I'm interested to see what Thomas, a top-flight talent, does with my favorite team, but I'm expecting little more than aping the groundbreaking days of Kirby/Lee.  

The mystery of pg. 27
Chris: A series of welcome changes for the team, and they're all on the same page. Sue's return is overdue, and readers will be left wondering why it took so long. At first, I thought it would've been an interesting twist for Sue to have been a plant, hanging out in secret on the rocket at Reed's direction, but of course it's better that Sue did this on her own initiative, and in defiance of Reed.  Most fans will welcome the return of Johnny's blue duds.  Best move of all is for Medusa to be back home in the Refuge, where there might be something productive or useful for her to do. 

Matthew: Mayhap the upcoming Inhumans solo mag was a factor.

Chris: This issue features another art mystery, as the appearance of page 27 struck me as markedly different from the others, suggesting that some other artist had to dash this one together.  From time to time, we’ve seen a weird panel or two, but a whole page?  I had to satisfy my curiosity, so I turned to the Grand Comics Database, which had this to say: “One extra page inserted, comprising the last seven panels of page 27 plus the first two panels of page 29;” well, blow me down!  GCD identifies the artist only as “? (page 27),” which doesn’t quite help.  If I were a betting man, I’d say this is Chic Stone’s work, but I only wish there were a way to prove it.  

Matthew: Can't speak to whodunit, but the why is obvious: since, as noted, this was planned as a 30-page story for GS #5 (which wound up leading the charge to all-reprint GS-ers), breaking it into two monthly issues obviously required some hasty new material.

Scott: A damned fine cover with Ben Grimm in the foreground, leading the charge. Did I mention I hate Johnny Storm? This kid saves a race in his own title years earlier, promptly forgets about them, and when he’s called on it, he’s too ga-ga with the girl to really care that he is just spouting pick up lines. I was waiting for him to whip out “gal o’mine” again. No, wait, he goes one better calling her “little girl blue.” Damn, what a douche. Overall a bland issue, much like most of the FF of the 70s. Even the art seems a little rushed this time around.
Matthew: Okay, raise your hand if you also had the Mead three-ring binder or two-pocket portfolio bearing this iconic Buckler/Sinnott cover; ironically, I didn’t have the issue itself—which came out just before I became a full-time Marvel Maniac—until long after.  Their interiors are equally sweet, and although they’ve been drawing the FF for a while, somehow it all clicks this time around, with Roy’s characterizations hitting just the right notes as well.  Perhaps the extra month everybody got to finish this GS story manqué made the difference, and even if it’s not a perfect entry (e.g., the coloring errors on Gorgon and Reed’s misplaced balloon on page 22), it’s a damn solid read, bringing us back to the status quo that some of us have sorely missed.

Ghost Rider 12
“Phantom of the Killer Skies”
Story by Tony Isabella and Frank Robbins
Art by Frank Robbins, Frank Giacoia and Mike Esposito
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane, Tom Palmer

Cruising through the Arizona desert, Ghost Rider comes across an elderly man being tormented by a ghostly World War I-era biplane piloted by legendary American aviator the Phantom Eagle, aka Karl Kaufman, now a true phantom. He pops the old timer on the back of his bike and races off, the plane keeping pace, even flying through solid rock. When they take shelter in a cave, the sun comes up and Johnny Blaze returns — the Phantom’s plane flies off towards the horizon. The old man tells Johnny that his name is Hermann von Reitberger, former German ace. Reitberger once had an epic dogfight with the Phantom: when the American was shot down, the dying pilot vowed to stalk the German through all eternity to gain his revenge. And he has for the past 60 years. Blaze agrees to take Reitberger to his grandson Joel, a pilot at a small municipal airport who also runs a museum devoted to World War I aircraft. Night falls and the Phantom Eagle returns, landing at the airfield. With skull a-flaming, Ghost Rider races out to confront the ghost pilot. The Phantom insists that Reitberger never shot him down in a fair fight: instead the German, a nefarious coward, blew up the Eagle’s plane as it was parked on a tarmac, killing Kaufman and his parents who were trying to escape Germany. Reitberger takes off in one of his grandson’s vintage flyers. Despite the Ghost Rider’s pleas, the Phantom Eagle finally gets his revenge, causing Reitberger’s plane to crash and explode. -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: I guess you have to tip your hat to Tony the Tiger for reaching back for the Phantom Eagle, who last appeared, I believe, in Marvel Super-Heroes #16 (September 1968). I had to do a bit of research on the character, so I realized that Hermann von Reitberger was a nogoodnik from the start — as if his name wasn’t a dead giveaway. So the reveal towards the end was hardly a surprise. Perhaps I need to schedule a CAT scan because, by golly, I really didn’t mind the Robbins art. It’s so goofily old-fashioned that it worked especially well during the flashbacks. This is actually a good issue for newbies to start with: Tony includes a page that basically recaps Ghost Rider’s recent history. I usually don’t comment on lettering, but Karen Mantlo has a nice style, large and clear. The last page preview for next issue promises, urg, the Trapster. What was that about tipping a hat?

Chris: Odd issue.  I liked the supernatural trappings, with a potential ghost rider vs ghost pilot matchup.  As much as I enjoyed Tony’s offering of conflicting accounts of Von Reitberger’s exploits, the two versions are so completely disconnected (heroic in-air battle, or cowardly attack on grounded opponent and helpless civilians -?) that all we can do is choose one story or the other; I’d prefer to consider one story that branches off at certain points, and then try to decide which differing details of the same story provide an accurate account (and that latter story is harder to write, isn’t it?).  There isn’t much for Ghost Rider to do here, although I agree with his take that, whoever’s right or wrong, sixty years of vengeance-plotting is long enough.

I will admit that I enjoy Robbins’ depiction of the Great Skull Face, even when it gets overdone.  The dogfighting is adequate – once he gets to the pages of the Invaders, Robbins will be amply praised for his depictions of military equipment, and I see no need to refute that.  I’ve decided that Robbins’ depiction of grandson Joel is meant to resemble Peter Fonda – my first impression was that he was going for a Paul Kantner look-alike.  Von Reitberger looks fairly ridiculous throughout.  I have to point out a truly comical, physics-defying sequence toward the end, when GR drives over the roof of the hanger, misses the plane (as it is immaterial at the time), sails thru the air toward the ground, then ascends about twenty feet up (p 30, pnl 2) to where he can reach the wing of the Phantom’s passing biplane when it returns for him.  I hope I can’t pin all of that on Robbins – my only guess is that Tony wanted GR to get on the plane somehow, so I’m going to assign some blame to him as well.  
Matthew: This takes place after Marvel Two-in-One #8, which makes sense when you remember that last issue was originally scheduled for the month before GR’s encounter with the Thing.  Okay, can we agree from the outset that a Ghost Rider and a Phantom Eagle are not too bad a match, and that this continues a welcome departure from the one-trick-pony Satanic stories we’ve had until recently?  For all my kvetching about Robbins (inked here by old warhorses Giacoia and Esposito), I acknowledge his credentials in both the aviation and vintage-wartime departments as impeccable, and although admittedly not without flaws—e.g., Karen Mantlo’s conspicuous lettering error, “He’s flying right though solid rock!”—this tale’s a pretty solid one.

As Isabella revealed in his interview with Knutson, “I used the [Phantom Eagle]…because this story was originally plotted to be drawn by Herb Trimpe, who’d drawn the first Phantom Eagle tale [in Marvel Super-Heroes #16] and the character’s appearance in a Thomas-written issue of The Incredible Hulk [#135]….I can’t recall why that didn’t happen as planned, but, happily, Frank Robbins had just come over from DC and was available to draw the story.  I believe it was one of the first jobs he did for Marvel.”  He noted that the line “It is the sky who is the killer of us all” was “a friendly tip-of-the-hat to Robert Kanigher, the creator of [DC’s] Enemy Ace,” who will eventually [as of this writing] be winging his way onto our martial-oriented sibling blog, the bare•bones e-zine.

Giant-Size Conan the Barbarian 4
June 1975
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

“Swords of the South”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane, Frank Springer & Vince Colletta
Colors by Phil Rache
Letters by Joe Rosen

“The Lurker Within”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Smith and Dan Adkins
Colors by Barry Smith
Letters by Sam Rosen
(reprinted from Conan the Barbarian #7, June 1971)

Escaping from Tarantia, the capital of Aquilonia, Conan and the rescued Countess Albiona sail south down the Khorotas river in an Asurian funeral boat. They soon arrive at the castle of the loyal Trocero, Count of Poitain, a region once under Conan’s righteous rule. Inside, a priest of Asura informs the Cimmerian that the thief who was travelling with the Heart of Ahriman was killed by robbers and that the jewel is now in the possession of a merchant named Zorathus. Disguised as a hired fighting-man, Conan rides off after the merchant. The former king comes across the fortress of Count Valbroso, who rides out and offers Conan the chance to join his plundering army — but not before the barbarian proves himself in battle against two men. After Conan emerges victorious, the Count tells him that a man named Zorathus has just been captured and they are torturing him for the secret to open his treasure-filled iron box. When Conan convinces the dying merchant to tell him how to unlock the box, Valbroso opens the top and is mortally poisoned by a booby trap. Beloso, Valbroso’s second-in-command, smashes Conan’s head with the treasure chest and makes off with Heart of Ahriman. Coming to, Conan rides off after Beloso but his mount suddenly trips and falls and he is once again knocked unconscious. When he wakes, the Cimmerian is being dragged by a werewolf-like ghoul to be devoured amongst boulders. Conan kills the beast but others surround his terrified steed. Fighting his way through, the barbarian gets back on the horse and manages to escape, tracking the Heart to the port city of Messantia. There, Conan visits a former trading partner from his time as a Black Corsair, a now-rich merchant named Publio, and asks him to find the whereabouts of Beloso. Publio discovers his location and Conan storms away: but the traitorous merchant sends his henchman to silence the Cimmerian, worried that the barbarian will reveal his criminal past. Conan finds Beloso murdered, marked by the Black Hand of Set, the symbol of the Stygian priests of the Serpent God. Before he can reach the Stygian galley sailing out of the port, the frustrated monarch is attacked by Publio’s rogues and left for dead. -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: Not sure about my fellow faculty members, but when I’m engaged and entertained by a comic, my synopsis is usually fairly short. But when things drag, I struggle and resort to a “and then he did this, and then he did that” format. This is what we seem to have here. At 30-pages, the latest chapter in the adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s only Conan novel, Hour of the Dragon, spins its wheels. If I had wanted, my synopsis could have simply been “Conan tracks the Heart of Ahriman to Messantia, but Stygian priest sail off with the magical orb.” But that would be cheating. The art is fine if not rather plain, with minimal backgrounds. The ghouls resemble something that Kane would illustrate for the cover of Werewolf by Night, sans pants of course, meaning we are even missing the usual oddball Hyborian monster. Conan is knocked unconscious a total of three times so his head must have been as tough as Zorathus’ iron box. After two mediocre issues, let’s hope that Hour of the Dragon picks up a bit more steam in Giant-Size Conan the Barbarian #5. (Don’t hold your breath, it won’t — but not for the reason you might assume.)

And, as usual, we have an early reprint, this one Conan the Barbarian #7, from June 1971.

Giant-Size Invaders 1
Cover by Frank Robbins and John Romita

"The Coming of the Invaders!"

Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Vince Colletta
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza

December 22, 1941:  Cap and Bucky are foiling a sabotage attempt on a shipyard when the F.B.I. summons them to the Walter Reed Hospital bedside of Dr. Anderson, who oversaw Operation Rebirth and Cap’s creation by Dr. Erskine—codenamed Reinstein—one year earlier.  He was abducted and taken to the Virginia farm where Col. Krieghund, trying to duplicate the experiment, used the Psyphon (“Obviously an earlybird version of the Psi-Fon, in this month’s Hulk!,” per Roy) to tap Anderson’s unconscious memories of the formula lost when Erskine was killed by Gestapo spy Kruger.  Assigned to Anderson’s security, the Torch and Toro located the silo just as the Nietzschean Master Man awoke and burst out of his vat of chemicals.

Next Issue: Bucky Visits the Chiropractor!
Wounded by Krieghund, who fled with Master Man, Anderson was rescued from the ensuing fire by the Torches, and sends the super-heroes to Chesapeake Bay, where the Nazis resurface in a U-boat to menace H.M.S. Duke of York.  Incognito among her crew, Namor leads the fight against the Übermensch, who leaps away when he feels himself weakening.  While the Torches and Namor sink the U-boat with fireballs and redirected torpedoes, Cap and Bucky follow and defeat Master Man as the effects of the formula wear off, and the five are asked by Winston Churchill, the mysterious passenger whom the battleship was transporting to the naval base at Hampton Roads, to put aside their customary differences for the duration, battling the Axis as the Invaders. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Looking at the pretzel-like image of Bucky on the splash page, I thought there should have been a rule that Robbins had to demonstrate every pose he depicted, a feeling that only intensified when I saw Bucky’s even more impossibly contorted stance in page 38, panel 5 (reprinted far below).  But my coverage of this title, which I really do love, will quickly becoming boring—assuming it isn’t already—if I simply slam Frank every time, so I’ll try to restrict myself to such specific examples, plus there are some mitigating factors.  Robbins (1917-94) was already drawing the aviation comic strip Scorchy Smith in 1941, making his vintage style even more suitable to this setting, and since he penciled virtually every issue for three years, there was no jarring transition.

The GS line’s last spasm of innovation, this will morph into a regulation-sized book in August, and features an “Agonizingly Personal Recollection” in which writer/editor Roy relates how his boyhood love for Timely Comics—exemplified by the Bill Everett reprint from Sub-Mariner Comics #1 (Spring 1941)—was attenuated by a dearth of super-hero groups and super-villains.  Stan’s invitation to come up with a new book enabled him to rectify that, borrowing Smiley’s title from an abortive plan to team Subby and the Hulk, then co-starring in Tales to Astonish.  Roy also reveals that he was so enamored of Frank’s original splash page that he had Romita ink it (presumably earning Jazzy Johnny his “special thanks” in the credits), and used it as the cover.

Matthew: Less than a year seems a little soon after Captain America #176 to retell his origin yet again, but it’s interesting to revisit a time when he had that single-mindedness of purpose, just as all he has ever been or done is called into question in his own mag. While Roy has very few credits there, he has, of course, written Cap and Namor extensively in Avengers and the late, semi-lamented Sub-Mariner, respectively, although again, the latter featured a Subby whose relationship with the surface world was much more complex and fraught.  Adopting a breezy tone more evocative of its Timely models than of its (lower-case) timely Bronze-Age contemporaries, this book paradoxically turns the greatest conflict ever to engulf the globe into a fun readso old it’s new.

Scott: That was great fun, even with Frank Robbins mucking this up. Still, he seems to be more into the proceedings here, with only a few of his signature weirdo layouts. For the most part, this is done in the style of Timely Comics’ wartime stories. The characters are all spot on, speaking as their earlier incarnations did. Cap’s origin is nicely elaborated upon, even addressing the Erskine/Reinstein retcon satisfactorily. It’s a little disappointing that Master Man was only defeated because the serum wore off. You’d think the combined strength of five heroes would be enough to take him down. They all agree pretty easily to form a team at the end and Namor seems a tad too enamored of Winston Churchill for my taste. I can’t figure out why he’d respect him over any other surface mortal. Overall, though, a good start. I remember liking this title a lot as a kid. Let’s see if it holds up under adult scrutiny.

Peter: I was anything but an art connoisseur in my 13th year but there was one thing I knew: Frank Robbins really sucked! His run over at Captain America ruined what was my favorite Marvel title. I couldn't bear to look at those rubbery limbs (why didn't Roy assign Robbins to Fantastic Four?) and sweaty brows and thus took a sabbatical until Frank departed and The King returned (oh, and what a can of worms that opened up -- another day though). So now, looking back at 1975, it surprises me that my second favorite Marvel (after Conway's The Amazing Spider-Man) was The Invaders. I can tell you where I was when I picked up every one of the eight issues I bought at the newsstand (before high school sports and girls led me down a different path). Maybe I enjoyed The Invaders in spite of Robbins' shenanigans; I was a major Timely buff thanks to the Fantasy Masterpieces I'd picked up at Comic Collector Shop and World War II had just begun to grab a bit of my interest in History class. Reading Giant-Size Invaders for the first time in at least thirty years, one thought jumps out in front of all the criticisms: This is what comics is all about! There's an interesting plot, with fascinating characters and a genuinely dangerous foe (obviously, Sly Stallone was a big Invaders fan and his homage is Dolph Lundgren's steroid-infused commie, Drago), with nary a MARMIS in sight. This band of warriors has never gotten along but they join together for the greater good of the world (even Namor recognizes the threat of Hitler) and, somehow, it's just right.

But, hey, we do have to talk about the art and then, like Professor Matthew, I'll keep quiet about it in the future. To think what Bill Everett (obviously not an option by 1975), John Buscema (busy on Conan), or Rich Buckler could have done with this series (Rich Freakin' Buckler -- think about it!) makes me utter an audible gasp. I'm not the only one but, to his credit, Roy Thomas has always flown the enthusiasm flag for Frank's work whenever he puts his thoughts to paper. I don't see it, not at all. Robbins' insanely contorted limbs (check out the examples already cited and especially the one reprinted to the right, where Namor does a rather limber move) and melting foreheads can take me right out of a good story. In Alter Ego Vol. 2 #2 (actually the flip side of Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998), Rascally confesses that he "never enjoyed writing The Avengers or Fantastic Four or even Conan the Barbarian any more than (he) did a little labor of love (he) christened - The Invaders." This issue is proof. I can't wait to jump into the regular series, art be damned.

Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up 2
Cover by Gil Kane and Al Milgrom

"To Bestride the World!"

Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Mike Sekowsky and Sam Grainger
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza

After sinking the new (and empty) supertanker Typhoeus, which refuses to return to port, Namor is lamenting his people’s suspended state when Doom, having reconsidered their proposed partnership, sends android lackeys to lure him to the surface.  As Doom shows off his solar generator in Latveria, it is smashed by Andro, the “lord” of the androids’ “harmless” religion, revealed as the first Doomsman, who escaped his exile in another dimension by invisibly hitching a ride with the Thing and Lockjaw (see FF #160) and mastering the dog’s teleportational powers.  Doom smashes a tunnel wall, releasing underground streams that restore Namor and drown the androids, but the unrepentant Andro escapes via teleportation. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I didn’t like Sekowsky’s work in Amazing Adventures #9-10, and I really don’t like the rubber-faced goons he draws here under Grainger’s inks (Doom’s mask literally shields him), but before turning the strip over to other scribes and storylines in the short-lived standard-sized bimonthly, Roy does what he could not do in last issue’s brief framing sequences.  He establishes this as the legitimate successor to both Subby’s own book and Doom’s strip in Astonishing Tales, which as far as I know makes it unique until the advent of Power Man and Iron Fist.  Earning this week’s Most Disingenuous Statement Award, the reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #8 is billed as “The first in a series of classic stories featuring Marvel’s greatest super-villains!”…the Living Brain??

Giant-Size Avengers 4
Cover by Gil Kane, Al Milgrom, and John Romita

"...Let All Men Bring Together"

Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Don Heck and John Tartaglione
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Gaspar Saldino and Charlotte Jetter

The Vision has lost his way back to his own time and winds up in a hellish realm with the Dread Dormammu who has captured the Scarlet Witch and Agatha Harkness. Wanda was drawn here by his increasing power and he is using her as revenge for his defeat at her hands in issue 118. Meanwhile, the Swordsman’s spirit tells the Avengers and Immortus of a great sadness he is feeling from afar. Immortus realizes that must be the Vision and he goes off in search of the android, leaving the Swordsman to tell of Mantis’ place in the universe. She is the Celestial Madonna, the perfect woman. Mantis and Moondragon, whose actual name is Heather, were born on the same day and both lost their families to tragedy. Mantis’ father left her at the Viet Nam temple, while Heather was taken to a temple on Titan. Both were brought up to be similar. Mantis has a form of telepathy and was the first non-Kree ever to communicate with the Cotati. Moondragon was given a mystical comprehension of the human mind. Once done, both women had this knowledge removed from them and lived out their respective lives. Of the two, Mantis was chosen as the best suited. Hawkeye leads Iron Man and Thor to the fallen Crimson Dynamo who tells them that Kang is searching for them. Meanwhile, the Vision battles Dormammu for the life of Wanda. However, she is under his control and he commands she destroy the android. She strikes him down and as he dies, she breaks free of Dormammu’s spell. After a fierce battle, the Vision revives and they back Dormammu into a corner. He agrees to leave them and Earth in peace in exchange for his survival. Back home, Agatha declares Wanda’s training ended and she takes her leave. The Vision proposes to Wanda and she accepts. Meanwhile (again), Kang arrives and the Avengers fight him. He’s beaten. The Swordsman's ghost is apparently a vision of the Cotati and Mantis is to “marry” one of them to make the perfect being. The Vision and Wanda marry in a double ceremony with Mantis and the Cotati, who merge and leave our plane of existence. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: That was awful. Sorry, but that’s the nicest thing I can say about it. After multiple meandering issues, this is the conclusion; an overcrowded, too complex and hideously drawn “epic” that really boils down to “Wanda marries an android and Mantis marries a tree.” This has to be Steve Englehart’s worst effort and even the once-long-ago-decent Don Heck is apparently at the end of his ability. Something as momentous as the marriage of Wanda to the Vision is poorly handled and at the end of this all I can say is “who gives a s—t?” Sorry fellas, but I never saw the fascination with Mantis and her concluding storyline was not worth the effort. Next…

Matthew: Delayed by a month, this began the last round of first-run GS titles, yet it was not the only one (e.g., Defenders) to go out with a bang; GS #5 was to have featured an Isabella/Heck inventory story, which wound up in #145-6, but instead re-presented my beloved Avengers Special #1.  To accommodate this epic double wedding, the reprints of the Lee/Kirby Ant-Man yarn from Tales to Astonish #38—featuring Egghead’s debut—and the inaugural Friedrich/Buscema Black Widow solo entry from Amazing Adventures #1 had to be truncated, per the MCDb. The 30-page main story completed an arc in which, as Englehart explained in Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Mantis literalized the Madonna-whore complex.

“Basically, Mantis was supposed to be a hooker who would join the Avengers and cause dissension amongst all the male members by coming on to each of them in turn. She was introduced to be a slut.  I’ve always been a big fan of sex, and I would see these grown-up superhero guys fight supervillains, then they’d meet a woman, they’d blush and stammer.  They were like big teenage boys, which always seemed dumb to me, because I was accepting them as grown-up men, so why didn’t they act like grown-up men?...By the end, because it was a cosmic time, somehow, she just turned herself into the Celestial Madonna and married a tree!  And in order to marry the tree, you had to know the history of the universe, you know?,” he told Howe.

Matthew: “And having done [that],” as he added on his website, “I integrated Dr. Strange [which he was writing concurrently, fitting this between #7 and 8] into the plot as well, because…why the heck not?”  Rarely have the words “kitchen sink” heralded such delight as Stainless, on his way to an unusually happy ending, does everything from check in with the Titanic Three (love Iron Man’s exchange with the Crimson Dynamo) and shed more light on Moondragon to dredge up the freakin’ Space Phantom, for heaven’s sake.  As a sometime Heck apologist—you knew this was coming—I think the Avengers veteran’s work here, while admittedly far from brilliant, suffers more in comparison with Buscema’s, or especially Cockrum’s, recent efforts than anything else.

Interviewed by Richard Arndt in Alter Ego #103 (July 2011), Englehart stated, “I’m a big Don Heck fan.  I like Don Heck, and I’ve never understood why he came in for so much of the flack [sic] that he did.  When we got to the end of the ‘Mantis’ saga in The Avengers, the artist was supposed to be Dave Cockrum, but he couldn’t do it. Editorial turned to Don and basically said, ‘Here’s the climax of a story you know nothing about, full of characters you’ve never seen.  It’s 34 pages long.  Knock it out as fast as you can.’  Under those circumstances I think Don did the best that you could expect anybody to do.  Still, I’m unhappy that the final chapter was drawn by somebody who wasn’t a part of the story up to that point,” with “Tartag’s” undistinguished inks.

Chris: I feel like I’ve just finished watching a 12-hr movie.  It’s a thorough job of storytelling, as Steve capably ties up many of the loose ends he had dangled regarding Mantis over the past 16+ issues (giant-sizers included).  It’s inventive, and interesting, but it doesn’t resonate for me; maybe if we knew more about what the Celestial Madonna might be moving on to, what her presence in the universe might mean, then I’d feel more of an emotional involvement with the story’s conclusion.  

Good call by Hawkeye, as he draws some of his teammates out for air, and they find something to do. Kang the Unconquering comes off as an ineffectual buffoon, and finds himself on a blind date with the Space Phantom, which makes for a fitting end for this once-formidable character, who provides little but comic relief thru this storyline.  
Probably the most effective part for me was when Vision found himself battling Dormammu (still trying to employ the earth’s heat to draw him back to our reality), since it finally resulted in Vision and Wanda getting together.  As it is, I’m ready to move on to some new stories featuring our heroes, instead of devoting so much time to two of them at the expense of all the others.  
You might feel that you’ve heard enough complaining from me about Heck – well, I’ve had enough of looking at his art, so we’re even.  I’m not even saying that the art is bad – the word I’ll apply is: disappointing.  Isn’t this supposed to be the conclusion of a major storyline?  Then why would you hand it to Heck?  (Can you imagine Steve typing up his outline, and musing “Can’t wait to see what Dashing Don does with this -!”)  If anything, he proves that he’s incapable of delivering a Big Moment.  Everything, at best, has the same pedestrian look – the illustrations don’t contribute to a buildup to anything.  At worst, the art is embarrassing: Dormammu looks like a sock puppet; the Vision finds himself coated in whipped cream (p 23) – oh wait, that’s molten lava? – my mistake; and at the end, Mantis – the Celestial Madonna – disappears in a pop of light – you know, like Tinkerbell.
I liked the reprints this time, although the Widow story was a bit slight.  The Ant-Man story practically had me laughing out loud, especially the part when Egghead expected to use the ants’ natural mendacity against Dr Pym.  Does every Egghead story end with him in a Bowery flophouse (and if so, maybe there’s room for Kang as well)?

Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu 4
Cover by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

"Why a Tiger-Claw?!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Keith Pollard and Sal Trapani
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Ray Holloway

Shang-Chi follows an erratically-driven taxi, and takes note as it crashes thru the exterior glass wall of a midtown bank.  S-C waits outside, and takes down two thieves as they run out to the sidewalk.  The police show up, and expect to arrest S-C together with the armed assailants.  The cabbie (who bears a distinct resemblance, in broad-mustached appearance and double-talking manner, to a revered entertainer of the mid-20th century) intervenes, driving out thru another glass wall.  The thieves escape in the resulting confusion via getaway car, as S-C and the cabbie pursue – the cabbie insists on recovering his stolen fares.  S-C discovers that the robbery is part of a string of heists under the direction of Tiger-Claw; Shang-Chi’s thoughts drift back to a time, years before, when he witnessed T-C defeat – and slay – three Si-Fan assassins as a way of proving his mettle to Fu Manchu.  S-C learns of T-C’s location, but when he arrives for battle, both are surrounded by a passel of Si-Fan.  S-C announces that he has no intention for anyone to die, so he aids T-C in his defense against the assassins.  That concluded, the original adversaries turn again toward each other, and S-C must now brave the fast-acting venom-tipped points of the tiger’s claws.  S-C employs a pole from an outdoor umbrella as a makeshift bo to defang T-C’s gauntlets, and once the weapons-free opponents are on common ground, S-C quickly brings the contest to a conclusion. -Chris Blake

Chris: There’s really no defensible reason for Sir Denis and Black Jack to be here, is there?  Are we to expect that they’re taking a break from train-spotting and bird-watching to indulge in some sleuthing?  The banter from the Groucho character is more clever than amusing; by that, I mean that I appreciated the way Doug was able to mimic Groucho’s witty style, but for some reason I got very few laughs out of it.  
Contributors to recent letters pages have been asking (bordering on begging and pleading) for stories that don’t rely on Fu as the villain – this issue would’ve been a perfect opportunity to do just that.  Doug should’ve kept Fu in the flashback sequence, when we all (including Shang-Chi) meet Tiger-Claw, but there was no need for him to be involved in any other part of the story (the sequence by itself is especially valuable as it provides the young son of Fu with an illustration of his father’s tolerance for cruelty).  It should’ve been sufficient for S-C to discover that T-C is robbing banks to build his own criminal empire, as he takes advantage of power-void brought on by the Si-Fan schism between Fu and Fah Lo Suee, and leave it at that.

Chris: Pollard’s art is adequate, on the level of what Ron Wilson has brought to this title.  For once, I’ll say that Trapani’s inks don’t match up as well or provide the same sort of continuity as they did when he inked Gulacy for MoKF #25; in addition, the clarity of the art starts to break down as we move into the last few pages (I peeked into the future – when Pollard & Trapani are paired again on this title – for MoKF #36 and #37 – the results are far better).  The fight scenes are sufficient, as they check all the right boxes, but overall Pollard doesn’t bring much imagination to the proceedings.  Case in point: at the start of Chapter II (page 31), we’re supposed to be looking at Fu’s throne room (as it were) – so, why does it have to appear so similar to the interior of the bank we saw earlier?  Doesn’t Pollard want to distinguish the look of Fu’s inner sanctum, somehow?

Giant-Size Dracula 5
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

"The Art of Dying"
Story by David Kraft
Art by Virgilio Redondo and Dan Adkins
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Marcos Pelayo

"Dark Asylum"
Story by Tony Isabella and David Kraft
Art by John Byrne and Rudy Nebres

During the 1930's in the cold desolate wilderness, an unnamed French agent runs for his life from Count Dracula. Through flashbacks, it's revealed that the agent stumbled upon one of his supervisors being coerced by Dracula into letting him run the government. Feeling that his best option was a mercy kill for the gentleman, the agent shoots him dead. When Drac tries to kill him, the agent unloads his firearm right into the vampire's face, scarring the Count's eye. Vowing revenge, Dracula tracks his prey. During this time, a rich millionaire named Evanns flies along in a blimp, driven by dreams of madness. In an uncontrollable rage, he beats his wife, until one of his workers knocks him out cold. Evanns apologizes to his wife, blaming the uncontrollable madness for his actions. Feigning friendliness, and the need for help, the millionaire later stabs to death the hired hand that struck him. Back in the cold Swiss mountains, Dracula finds the agent and begins to drink his blood but, before he can complete his revenge, the sun comes up and the vampire flees. Seeking aid from a priest, the agent is given supplies so that he can face Drac one more time. At nighttime, Evanns' zeppelin flies over the agent during a blizzard, just as Dracula is about to kill him. When both of them board the blimp, chaos ensues. Drac kills a crewman while the insane Evanns attacks the agent. Eventually, Evanns attacks Dracula after the fiend tries to feed on his wife. Before too long, the zeppelin crashes into a mountainside, with the only two survivors the agent and Evann's wife. The two walk off to safety. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: I'm conflicted with this somewhat overly long story. While flashback stories are always good because they add an extra layer to Dracula's character, this one didn't really bring too much depth and didn't accomplish much. Still, it wasn't bad.

Chris: Another dark tale by DAK.  The steady forward motion kept my interest, despite the story’s dense wordiness, especially in the first two chapters.  The tortured, driven madness of Pol Evanns was a highlight.  Sound decision by Dave to refrain from having Pol describe for us the point-by-point history of his disturbing dreams; it’s far better to see the dream play out in waking hours, as the reader is required, along with the beleaguered crew, to try to figure out what could possibly happen next.  Another good choice: to omit any possible explanation of what could be causing the dreams (after all, it is a mystery story, right?).  I don’t suppose Pol’s dreams involved a vampire coming aboard the zeppelin, did they?  (“It’s an airship, an airship!” –sorry, I’ll explain later.)  One aspect I would change: I would’ve arranged for Drac to stow away in the cabin much earlier in the story, to provide some build-up as the crew would then have to try to survive, as Drac picks them off one-at-a-time, while the zeppelin whirls thru the snowstorm, with no chance to land until dawn . . .

"Dark Asylum" is a ludicrous account of a young man who thinks he needs to fight a wizard so that he can escape a haunt of horrors, only to discover that the wizard is himself, and that ultimately, he has (with the aid of a well-timed injection) fought his way back to sanity.  Maybe our young charge should stay off the acid – or perhaps that advice should be for our plotter, Tony I.
The art is a welcome change, as Redondo gives us a different, but still to-par depiction of Dracula and his shadowy night-world; as luck would have it, Adkins is available to ink, which means we’re spared more Springer this time.  Byrne doesn’t fare as well; his layouts are solid, but an early glimpse of his signature style is lost under Nebres’ inks, with the “warp” on p 51 pnl 2 (below) providing the best opportunity to view the Byrne-to-be.

Peter Enfantino: Two glorious pre-code reprints (just check out that splash below!) wrap up the fifth and final issue of Giant-Size Dracula: "The Hidden Vampire" from Journey Into Mystery #21 (January 1955) and "They Fly By Night" from Adventures Into Terror #30 (April 1954). 

Adventure Into Fear 28
Morbius, the Living Vampire in
"The Doorway Screaming Into Hell!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Frank Robbins and Vince Colletta
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

After being shot by Simon Stroud, Morbius crashes through a window of the rented mansion and falls unconscious in a tree below. Stroud takes Martine to the headquarters of the Boston Police: Detective Warner has a female bloodsucker restrained whom Stroud assumes is a victim of the Living Vampire. Again, Martine insists that Morbius cannot transfer his curse to others. Warner reveals that the mansion Martine rented for her fearsome fiancé is haunted, the elderly woman who owned it before claiming it was a gateway to the dimension called Hell. Morbius comes to, his gunshot wound mysteriously healed. He flies back into the mansion looking for Martine. When he spots a feminine figure rushing by, he follows her through a doorway made of light and finds himself in a huge cavern containing a gleaming city. The woman turns around, only a single huge eye in the center of her forehead. Morbius flies towards her and the eye grows larger, drawing him inside a sphere of water. Small, hairy, one-eyed critters strike but the vampire kills them all: before one dies it apologizes, claiming that they were ordered to attack by their ruler Helleyes, and that the only way to kill the demon is to destroy one of his many eyes — which one is a mystery. Morbius swims out of the sphere and comes face to face with Helleyes, a huge being dotted with dozens of eyes all over his body. Helleyes bellows that he wants the vampire to join him in the conquest of the world. The Living Vampire chooses one eye to attack — but it is the wrong orb and Morbius is banished to one of a thousand hells. -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: Uh whaaaaat? I think I brained my damage. I have no clue as to what Moench is going for here. Is Morbius in Hell? Doug uses the term “the dimension called Hell,” so I don’t think he’s talking about the devil’s domain. Plus, there’s a big shiny futuristic city down there. Not sure that would last long amongst eternal hellfire. And what’s with all the eyes? Maybe it was just Moench deciding to use four words instead of one. “Hey man, why just call it Hell, when you can call it the dimension called Hell!” But that makes no sense either. It’s obviously not Hell right? So why use the word Hell at all? It’s … oh I give up. The hairy little critters look too cute to be terrifying, like cyclops wookiees. They do have big sharp chompers though. And Helleyes doesn’t work at all. Simon Stroud runs around a bit in that awkward Robbins style but doesn’t have much impact besides panel filler. Supposedly the former owner of the mansion was dumped in a sanatarium when she started babbling about gates to the dimension called Hell and whatnot. But all of a sudden, Detective Warner decides that she was telling the truth and that’s the cause of all the hubbub? Well maybe I can buy that one. There are vampires running around his precinct after all. I’m not sure if Adventure Into Fear with the Man Called Morbius, The Living Vampire #28 deserves Landmark Status or if it’s the biggest pile of hot steaming mess I have encountered during my MU tenure. But since I haven’t read the next issue yet, perhaps we should pause before handing out awards.

Matthew: Christ, with the debut of Invaders and a Ghost Rider guest-shot, that makes four mags this month in which we must endure Robbins; that’s as good an argument as I can think of for producing comics in Braille, but luckily our Living Vampire gets a two-issue break after this.  Personally, I think Morbius is a great character and this series had lots of potential, especially under Gerber, yet like many a monster strip, it won’t outlast the year, and issues such as this one—another provided to me by our august Dean Enfantino—suggest why.  Here we see the spectacle of Moench actually threatening to drag things down to Frank’s level, with an aimless script that Doug seems to be making up as he goes along and inks by Colletta that bring no relief.

Chris: I just realized that my copy of Fear #28 is missing a few pages – well, no problem there!  Would the story make any more sense if it were complete?  Could be – who knows!  Does any of this have to do with the other vampires the local PD picked up, which we had seen with Martine at that start of the story?  Maybe – maybe not!

Did anyone notice that Robbins tagged Stroud’s car with a license plate that reads: “NCC1701”-!  What a card!  That said, the unintended illustrative howler of the month comes in the form of Stroud’s horizontal lunge toward the rear bumper of said car (pag 6, pnl 3) – holy helleyes, but that sure is going to draw some unvampiric blood once he impacts headfirst!  
A letter-of-comment describes Robbins’ art as “ill-defined, caricaturistic, it has no place in a Marvel comic book;” and so, ten points to Len G from Marvin SD for making the call, eloquently and succinctly.  

Thus Endeth Series One


  1. Always wondered if GS-Dracula wouldn't have been better if there had been at least one issue with decent art. It is hard to compete with Colan/Palmer, still this ranged from blah to awful. I don't mind the writers, these books seemed to be a kind of try-out for new writers sometimes, and Claremont sure earned his merits here.

    Artwise this wasn't a good month for Marvel. If you see this monthly output presented in its chronological form, it is quite baffling how they were so successful. Of course problems do arise in the production, but when I read the culmination of Engleharts Mantis-Saga for the first time in the Essential version I was surprised how you can miss so spectaculary. Of course the earlier art on Avengers was not great either, but I wonder how one would rate this story if it had been done by Starlin, Buckler or John Buscema. Something at least a tiny bit inspired and not this terrible dud.

    I know the editorial philosophy at the time was quite different then today, nobody cared a lot about little endings in Major storylines. They didn't even curb the worst excesses of writers like McGregor or Moench – I am fan of Moench, still he is sometimes virtually unreadable -, which only could have been better with some editing. I won't deny that this approach also had its good sides. Content like the Gerber books for instance never did pass Editorial in later years.

    Still, arcs like the Celestial Madonna could have been so much better.

  2. Once again, I missed the G-S Avengers when it came out and only read it decades later. To say it wasn't quite worth the wait is putting it mildly. My nomination for worst drawn Avengers story ever. Back in those days they did have to make sure that a mag scheduled to be print actually got printed or the Earth would shatter into tiny bits or some such thing, but what saw print was just horrid, even granted that it was a rush job and Heck was well past his prime by this point, although he did do a much better job on G-S Defenders #4. Otherwise, Colan's work on Dr. Strange rises to his usual high standards and storywise, my favorite was the latest segment in the Defenders clash with the Sons of the Serpent. Not counting the tie-in with Marvel Two-In-One that began Gerber's run, this is first epic on the title and I found it enjoyable enough. In this storyline, it seems to me Gerber is mixing in the sort of moral outrage the EC masters expressed in some of their best suspense tales with the typical Marvel superhero mashups against costumed goons with a lot of fancy gadgets and incredible hideouts that must have cost a lot of money -- and Gerber would pull a surprise by showing us where that money came from. And while the Serpents' closest real life counterparts, the KKK, was a relative shadow of its former very powerful self by the mid-70s, they hadn't entirely withered away. Alas, decades later, they're still around, but more like worms than serpents.

  3. I immediately got the "It's an AIRSHIP!" reference, but that's partly because I'm more of a fan of those final episodes than you're expected to be.

    1. thanks Grant -- I originally saw the "Golden Age of Ballooning" episode over 35 yrs ago, and it still glides majestically thru the sky for me to this day.